I’m in a club I never joined. Not on purpose, at least. And though we never meet, those of us in the club recognize each other, wherever we are—in airports and hospital waiting rooms, in Egypt and Ohio. We find each other in grocery stores, our carts piled high with foods younger people eat. And those of us who are fortunate are sprinkled around at cross-country meets and basketball games and graduation parties.
You might think it’s the silver hair that helps us find each other. Or the lines that give our faces character. Or the occasional grimace when a body part fails—or one of the other medals of our long passage through life. But these are only the trifling signs.
What bonds us into a club is the instant knowing. From the very first moment our eyes meet, we have the feeling that we understand each other, that we can see in each other what we each know about ourselves.
We know the realities for our time of life. For example, people, especially those who don’t know us and how quick-witted we really are, have begun to talk to us in a different style—using a singsong voice with a limited vocabulary and exaggerated words. Elderspeak some folks call it, a kind of twilight-of-life baby talk. Others see us as antiques, stuck in old ways, holding onto landlines and paper and analogue clocks and flashlights with batteries. And, we, ourselves, can feel the gradual shift from the centers of life to the sidelines—in our professions and in our families.
In one shared glance, we in the club acknowledge to each other all this we are losing.
But that quick look does more. It also celebrates what we are gaining.
Having moved off-stage, we are now the chief applauders of those still on it—our children and grandchildren and so many young friends—whose successes mean more to us than our own. Though we’re not on Instagram and TikTok and Twitter, those we love reach to us with emails and dinner invitations and earnest conversation.
They need us, these young people we applaud. And we are fortunate when they want us—those of us in the silver-hair club.